Intoxication Handout

This is one of the main defences on the OCR exam board for Criminal Law. This handout illustrates the key points, problems and proposals for reform.

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This is not a defence as such but is relevant in deciding whether the D had the
necessary mens rea. If due to the D's intoxicated state he does not have the mens rea, he
may not be guilty.
It covers intoxication by substances like alcohol or drugs.
The relevant factors in deciding whether the D is guilty of not are:
o Whether he was voluntarily or involuntarily intoxicated
o Whether it is a specific or basic intent offence.
Voluntary Intoxication.
This covers situations where the D has got himself voluntarily intoxicated from particular substances. It can
also include prescribed drugs where the D has knowledge that they will cause intoxication.
Specific Intent (Voluntary Intoxication).
If the voluntary intoxication causes the D not to form the mens rea then he is not guilty of a specific intent
offence. DPP v Beard (1920): D was charged with murder and pleaded that he did not form the necessary
mens rea. Lord Birkenhead made it clear that if the D was "so drunk that he was incapable of forming the
intent required" then he could not be convicted.;
Sheehan and Moore (1975): D's set fire to tramp. They were too intoxicated to form
the mens rea of intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm. For that reason they could
plead intoxication which reduced their specific intent offence to manslaughter (a basic
intent crime).
However, if the D gets intoxicated to form the courage to commit the offence then
they cannot plead intoxication. This is known as "Dutch Courage" and is illustrated in
Gallagher (1963): D killed his wife after getting severely intoxicated to do so. It was
held that a drunken intent was still an intent.
Basic Intent (Voluntary Intoxication).
If the offence is of basic intent then the D cannot raise intoxication when they become voluntarily
intoxicated. This is because it is a reckless course of conduct and recklessness is enough to form the mens
rea for basic intent offences.
o This was illustrated in DPP v Majweski (1977) where D became intoxicated and attacked a public
house and attacked police officers. The HoL's held: "it was a reckless course of conduct and
recklessness is enough to constitute the necessary mens rea".
Involuntary Intoxication.
This covers situations where the D did not know he was taking an intoxicating
substance. For example, a lacked drink, it also covers an unexpected reaction to a drug.
Kingston (1994): D had his coffee laced and was invited to abuse a 15 year old. He
was blackmailed and the HoL's held that involuntary intoxication cannot be a defence if the D
had formed the necessary mens rea. This is so even though the D would not have committed
the offence if it weren't for the intoxication.
If D does not have the necessary intent then he cannot be liable of a specific intent
Basic intent offences are similar to specific intent as becoming involuntarily intoxicated is not a reckless
course of conduct, therefore he does not possess the necessary mens rea. This is illustrated in Hardie
(1985): D took Valium to calm himself down after his girlfriend asked him to leave. He set fire to her
wardrobe. However, he did not know the Valium would have this effect therefore he was not reckless.

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Intoxicated Mistake.
If the defendant is mistaken about a key fact due to his intoxicated mistake then it
depends on the mistake made as to whether the D can rely on the defence or not.
If the mistake means the D does not have the necessary mens rea then they cannot
be liable of a specific intent offence. However, if it is a basic intent offence then D
has no defence.…read more

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× Involuntary Intoxication: It appears unfair that even when the D's inhibitions are broken down due to
involuntary intoxication they can still be liable if they form's the necessary mens rea. This occurred in
Kingston (1994) and ignores the fact that the defendant was not to blame for the intoxication.
Butler Committee (1975): Proposed the creation of "dangerous intoxication". This would be used where
the defendant is acquitted of an offence on the basis of intoxication.…read more


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